Entrepreneurship expert at Imperial College Business School Harveen Chugh explains why she wants to build a generation of practical, business-minded entrepreneurs.
In an age defined by innovation, it’s no surprise entrepreneurship is on the rise. According to Companies House data, an average of over 625,000 new companies have been registered annually in the UK since 2015.
However, over the same period, the number of dissolutions averaged over 440,000 with most new businesses going bust within three or four years. One factor behind this is an instinct to aim high without laying the groundwork, with inexperienced entrepreneurs often "aiming to solve a huge problem such as poverty, climate change or looking to build a sophisticated product without ensuring market fit", says Harveen, a Senior Teaching Fellow at Imperial College Business School.
Her solution is to transform entrepreneurship training. "The aim of my research is to develop a consistent approach to entrepreneurship coaching, so that we ensure entrepreneurs cover the fundamental questions and steps that will lead to their success."
Syllabus for success
Harveen began her journey combining science and business with a BSc in Biology and Business Studies at Queen Mary University in London and an MSc in Bioinformatics at Birkbeck University of London. She joined Imperial College Business School in 2002 to undertake a PhD in Entrepreneurship, focusing on biotech startups, and went on to lecture at Royal Holloway University of London. She later founded her own business (VIS-3) providing entrepreneurship programme design and coaching to clients around the world.
"I felt it was important to gain skills as an entrepreneur myself, learning how to define and target a market segment, how to sell and how to deliver a product to a client," she explains.
It’s been great to see the number of ideas that benefit society as a whole; it’s not all about profit.
In 2017, Harveen returned to the Business School, where she is dedicated to training the next generation of entrepreneurs. As well as providing coaching that "breaks down myths and preconceptions", she’s about to launch a new MBA module focusing on scaling up successfully launched businesses. Given that data from the ScaleUp Institute shows the UK has a "scale-up gap" compared to the US ("promising companies struggle to grow domestically and expand internationally"), this new unit is extremely timely for the wider economy.
Beyond coaching, students need a testing ground to gain practical experience. The Imperial Enterprise Lab facilitates this through networks, competitions and events. Harveen is the Lab’s Business School lead, working on programmes such as Imperial Business Pitch: a competition that sees teams develop ideas to pitch to a panel of investors with the aim of winning a £5,000 prize.
"It’s been great to see the number of ideas that benefit society as a whole; it’s not all about profit," Chugh says. “It’s important to think about having a positive social impact, and I have been really impressed to see our students thinking about this more."
In recognition of her work, Harveen was recently named one of Poets & Quants’ "Best 40 Under 40" Professors for 2019, which was "a surreal, pinch-me moment at first", she admits. As the only female recipient of the award from a UK business school this year, it was also a trailblazing achievement that fits with the forward-looking nature of her work. This is not lost on Harveen, who acknowledges "it was an honour for my work to be recognised and appreciated globally".
However, her focus remains on the future: "My dream would be for the coaching framework that I develop to be used at business schools, accelerators and entrepreneurship centres around the world." Given her achievements so far, don’t bank on this taking long to become a reality.
Written by: Temoor Iqbal